PhD Social Anthropology / Programme details

Year of entry: 2024

Programme description

The staff are very supportive, and always suggests new spaces to develop your research.

In the case of Anthropology, it must be the most vibrant atmosphere there is in the UK at the moment, including the particular strength of Visual Anthropology.

Martin Larsson / PhD Social Anthropology Student

The Social Anthropology PhD programme involves substantial original research, normally including ethnographic fieldwork of 12-18 months and leading to the production of a thesis of up to 80,000 words. Throughout, you work closely with an expert supervisor, with further guidance from at least one extra supervisor.  

Duration of the programme is three or four years, full-time study (or part-time equivalent). Its structure depends on prior qualification:

  • Students are registered on the PhD programme and, during the first year, take a set of research training courses. After about 10 months (or 20 in part-time study) you will produce a 12,000-15,000 word research proposal. This proposal is examined in an oral viva. Successful completion of this viva and of coursework at satisfactory level, is a condition for you to proceed to field research. After fieldwork, you will return to the University and start writing your dissertation under the guidance of your supervisors.
  • If you have successfully completed our MA Anthropological Research (or equivalent ESRC-recognised course in another UK institution), you may be in a position to start fieldwork as soon as is practicable, provided that you have submitted a satisfactory research proposal as part of that degree and it has been approved by the School of Social Sciences. After fieldwork, you will return to the University and start writing your dissertation under the guidance of your supervisors.

Social Anthropology at Manchester has a lively PhD community of students working in all of the world's continents and on a variety of topics. Find out what some of our current postgraduate researchers are working on.

Additional programme information

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities.

We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

All appointments are made on merit.

The University of Manchester and our external partners are fully committed to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Teaching and learning

During the first year, students who have not taken the MA Anthropological Research or an equivalent, normally take a number of research training units. Two core units are Issues in Ethnographic Research 1 and 2, geared towards research design and planning of your field study. In addition, the postgraduate seminar provides a forum for presentation, discussion and reflection amongst peers. A series of optional courses offer skills in additional methods such as quantitative approaches, archival research, working with memory, conducting elite interviews, etc.  

At the same time, under the individualised guidance of your supervisors, you will read extensively around your research topic as well as relevant theoretical literature. To deepen your knowledge, you may also take particular units in social anthropology. 

The objective of units and supervision during the first year is to produce a 12,000-15,000 word research proposal, which is examined in an oral viva. Successful completion of this viva and of coursework at satisfactory level, is a condition for you to proceed to field research. After fieldwork, normally 12-18 months, depending on concrete case, you return to the University and start writing your dissertation and, in some cases, editing audio-visual material. During this time, you will continue to work with your supervisors and to present your written work to the postgraduate seminar. 

When you become a postgraduate researcher, you'll join a diverse and vibrant community of doctoral students from nearly 100 different countries, all studying within the Faculty of Humanities. 

You'll be assigned to a specific research grouping that complements your research interests and have access to a variety of interdisciplinary research institutes. 

Our working environments are often spacious and open-plan, giving you plenty of opportunities to communicate with colleagues and staff within the School, and you will have your own desk space as well as access to our fantastic range of libraries on campus. 

All our academic supervisors are research active and will support you to work on challenging research problems and develop rigorous, creative and original research. 

You can expect to meet with your supervisor at least once a month to discuss progress on your project. 

You will have access to a large and diverse community of internationally recognised academic experts offering an environment that will stimulate intellectual debate and development. 

We provide additional financial support for a number of activities related to your PhD, including: 

  • presenting at international conferences;
  • attending workshops that provide relevant professional opportunities; 
  • conducting fieldwork in the UK and overseas.

Graduate Teaching Assistants 

You can also get hands-on, paid teaching experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.  

Graduate Teaching Assistants in the School of Social Sciences are valued members of the teaching team. As such, we take pride in the opportunities provided for the professional development of graduate teaching assistants.  

Our training includes preparation for application to the Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy . This brings a range of benefits:

  • consolidates your personal development and emphasises your professional practice in HE;
  • entitlement to use post-nominal letters - AFHEA; 
  • provides a valuable measure of success and is increasingly sought by employers across the education sector as a condition of appointment and promotion; 
  • recognised and valued by a growing number of international institutions.

Programme unit list

The programme unit details given below are subject to change, and are the latest example of the curriculum available on this programme of study.

TitleCodeCredit ratingMandatory/optional
Issues in Ethnographic Research I SOAN70641 15 Mandatory
Issues in Ethnographic Research II SOAN70652 15 Mandatory
PG Research Seminar SOAN70940 15 Mandatory

What our students say

View profiles of our current cohort of PhD students in Social Anthropology.


The School of Social Sciences is now based in a brand-new purpose-built building which allows 24/7 access. There is shared workspace available for research students within the Social Anthropology area, including networked computers and printing facilities.  

There are also many work areas elsewhere in the building and in the University. These other work areas include The University of Manchester Library which has an excellent collection of social anthropology books and journals, many of which can also be accessed online. 

You may also join the Film Library of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. The Library contains over 2000 titles and a collection of `Masterworks' featuring many of the leading works in the history of ethnographic cinema.

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: